How Qatar Accommodated for its Growing Christian Community.
By: Leyelle Mosallam / Arab America Contributing Writer
Like all countries within the Arabian peninsula, Qatar’s native population is predominantly Muslim and Islam is the country’s official religion. But, over the last two decades, Qatar has experienced a strong influx of expatriates, many of whom are practicing Christians from South Asia, most notably the Philippines, Southern India, Europe, the Americas, and a few Middle East North African countries. These expatriate Christians living in Qatar used to gather discreetly in their homes or schools to pray and attend religious services. But, when Qatar opened its first church in 2008 and began construction for a large church complex, many Christians living in Qatar were finally able to recognize a central place of worship.
When the call to prayer is playing throughout Qatar’s capital city Doha on Fridays, Muslims are not the only community getting ready to worship. Unlike Christianity, Fridays are Islam’s holy day. Therefore, weekends in Qatar are Friday-Saturday and not Saturday-Sunday like most Western countries. Due to Sunday being a workday in Qatar, most Christian worshipping services are held on Friday or Saturday with only a few held on Sunday evening.
The Opening of Qatar’s first church: The Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Rosary
In May 2005, local representatives of Christian churches in Qatar signed an agreement with the Qatari government to establish a fifty-year renewable lease for a piece of property on the outskirts of Qatar’s capital, Doha, known as Mesiameer. This piece of property was used to build one large church complex consisting of six different churches: Roman Catholic, Indian Christian, Anglican, Greek Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, and Coptic. Officially named the Mesaimeer Religious Complex, many people in Qatar began calling this area of Doha “Church City”.
The Roman Catholic Church, Our Lady of the Rosary, was dedicated on March 14th, 2008 by Cardinal Ivan Dias and it was the first church built in Qatar since the 7th century. The decision to build Qatar’s first church was made by Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani to modernize the country and accommodate for the country’s growing Christian community.
To many Christians, the opening of Qatar’s first church was seen as a step towards tolerance. Qatar was known to restrict non-Islamic practices in its country due to Islam being the country’s national religion and Sharia being the main source of the country’s legislation. 20 years ago, the thought of churches in Qatar seemed almost impossible to many Christians living in the country, but with Qatar’s increasing migrant population and being awarded to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar knew that it needed to become more tolerant and open towards their country’s diverse population. Today, the Roman Catholic Church serves around 200,000 Catholics in Qatar who come from the Philippines, India, South America, Africa, Europe, and Lebanon.
Qatar’s Indian Churches
The Indian community in Qatar makes up about 24% of Qatar’s population and the majority of the Indian community are Christian. Since the beginning of the 1970s, Indian’s have migrated from Kerala (India’s largest Christian population) to Qatar and have been longing for a place of worship ever since. The most notable Indian churches in Qatar are the St. James Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church and the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church, also known as the Indian Orthodox Church. The St. James Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church was concentrated on February 26, 2009, while the Indian Orthodox Church was concentrated on July 3rd, 2009.
The Church of the Epiphany and Smaller Greek Orthodox and Coptic Churches.
The Church of the Epiphany is an Anglican Church in Qatar that began serving Protestant Christian Communities in 2013. The formation of Qatar’s Anglican Church was a large project. As of today, the church serves between 18,000-25,000 worshippers from 65 different countries and offers to worship services in English, Tamil, and Igbo. Due to its diverse community, the Epiphany Church values both spiritual and cultural practices. The church offers English, Indian, Indonesian, and African choir groups, and implements many visual art, drama, and dance performances in order to enhance one’s cultural experience and understanding along with their worshipping practices.
St. Isaac and St. George Greek Orthodox Church consist of Arab, Greek, Russian, Cypriots, and Romanian Greek Orthodox worshippers. According to their website, the Greek Orthodox Church is seeking to build its own permanent church and is currently holding all its church activities in the halls of a private school. Another notable church in Qatar is St. Peter and St. Paul Coptic Church which was built to serve Qatar’s Egyptian Coptic community.
A Positive Mark on Qatar and the Wider Gulf Region
The making of Qatar’s Church City demonstrates Islam’s traditional flexibility and tolerance towards other faiths. Before Qatar announced the opening of their country’s first church, most of Qatar’s neighboring Gulf countries had already established at least one church. The only Gulf country that has yet to open a church in Saudi Arabia. Considering Qatar’s history of rejecting non-Islamic practices in their country, opening Qatar’s religious complex was at first quiet and controversial. However, Qatar’s Church City is the largest religious complex in the Gulf and has proved that the Muslim world is tolerable towards other religions in the region.
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